Pigeon: Impossible

The Bioscope scribes are currently toiling away at a long post which is taking ages to research (regulars may not realise that every post is first written out in long-hand with quills pens wielded by white-haired amanuenses working to the roughest of outline sketches, who then hand the parchment to a team of owl-eyed fact-checkers who lurk deep within the bowels of Bioscope Towers, seldom seeing the light of day. Only then is the hallowed text handed to yours truly, who heartlessly ignores most of it and instead types down whatever comes into his head).

While we wait, and while I head off to a conference and other such business for a couple of days, here’s a modern silent to entertain you, recommended by Bioscope regular Frederica. But is it a modern silent, or is it closer to a Tom and Jerry cartoon? Or should we look upon Tom and Jerry cartoons as model examples of silent filmmaking (Spike the dog aside)? You decide – or just enjoy a particularly ingenious and rib-tickling piece of modern animation.

Big screen Charlie

And there’s more Chaplin coming up. Over June 17-27 the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles is showing Charlie Chaplin on the Big Screen, a series of Charlie Chaplin films in new 35mm prints provided by Janus Films, which recently obtained the US domestic theatrical and home video rights to the Chaplin library from First National to United Artists (1918-1957). It features The Circus, Limelight, The Great Dictator, A Woman of Paris, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, A King in New York with assorted shorts, and an inspired bit of programming – The Kid as a reason to celebrate Father’s Day. The prints presumably come with soundtracks, since there is no word of live muscial accompaniment. Here’s the blurb from the American Cinematheque’s press release with its breathlessly enthusiastic descriptions of the films (minus the insistent reminder that every print is a new print and every film comes from Janus Films):

Thursday, June 17 – 7:30 PM
“The Idle Class,” (1921, 32 min). The Tramp arrives at a luxurious resort, stowed away in the train that takes the elite to their sunny summer playground. “Sunnyside,” (1919, 29 min). Charlie the handyman must mow the floor of a hotel and deal with the pesky cows and goats that have found a home in the church.

THE CIRCUS, 1928, 71 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. The Little Tramp goes from being a circus loiterer who steals hotdogs from babies to an accidental clown in this delightful riot by comedic genius Charlie Chaplin. Don’t be fooled by the freewheeling slapstick throughout – the final shot evokes the heart-tugging yet adorable melancholia that makes the Tramp one of cinema’s most enduring characters.

Friday, June 18 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: CITY LIGHTS, 1931, 83 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. Perhaps Chaplin’s best blend of comedy, pathos and class critique, this portrayal of the Tramp’s well-intended efforts to help a lovely, blind flower seller is one of the great classics from the director’s oeuvre.

A WOMAN OF PARIS, 1923, 78 min. One of the rare Chaplin films not starring Chaplin, this romantic drama stars Edna Purviance as a woman who bounces back and forth between the security of a wealthy lover (played by the great Adolphe Menjou) and the passion of a poor artist.

Saturday, June 19 – 7:30 PM
THE GOLD RUSH, 1925, 72 min. Coming off his first major financial failure, A WOMAN OF PARIS, writer-director Charlie Chaplin responded with what many consider his finest feature length film. The Lone Prospector (Chaplin) travels to the far-off Yukon in search of gold, but ends up falling in love with dance-hall girl Georgia Hale. The classic “dance of the dinner rolls” and “boiled shoe leather” scenes show Chaplin’s gift for poignant comedy at its very best. Plus “A Dog’s Life,” (1918, 40 min). A literal expression of Chaplin’s identification with the underdog. “A Day’s Pleasure,” (1919, 25 min). A family boat outing is complicated by tumultuous waves, traffic and a pool of tar. “Shoulder Arms,” (1918, 46 min). The comedy of self-preservation and patriotic fantasy comes to a head when the Tramp finds himself in World War I.

Sunday, June 20 – 3:00 PM
Celebrate Father’s Day with Chaplin! THE KID, 1921, 60 min. In perhaps his greatest film masterpiece, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp, following his paternal instincts, takes a hapless, orphaned baby – “the Kid” – under his wing. Five years pass, and the tyke is now a precocious little boy (Jackie Coogan), helping his foster dad, the Tramp, in his “window glass replacement” scam. But a confluence of events, including the Kid’s sudden illness, conspire to separate the two. Plus “A Dog’s Life,” (1918, 40 min). A literal expression of Chaplin’s identification with the underdog.

Wednesday, June 23 – 7:30 PM
“Pay Day,” (1922, 28 min) Chaplin as a construction worker celebrates pay day by going to the bar – and trouble erupts.

LIMELIGHT, 1952, 137 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. In this nostalgic but never maudlin swan song, Chaplin channels the riotous music-hall culture of his youth. An intensely personal film complete with recollections of his parents as well as his children in cameo roles, LIMELIGHT also features the one-time-only onscreen pairing of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Thursday, June 24 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: MODERN TIMES, 1936, 87 min. Charlie Chaplin directs and plays the Tramp in this brilliantly inventive critique of industrial advancement. When the Tramp begins to take on one too many characteristics of the massive machinery that surrounds him, the powers-that-be are made nervous by such anti-social behavior and suspect him of being a communist.

A KING IN NEW YORK, 1957, 110 min. Charlie Chaplin’s take on America in the 1950s, made during his exile from the country due to his leftist views, stars Chaplin as a peaceable king who runs afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Roberto Rossellini wisely called the work “the film of a free man.”

Friday, June 25 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: THE CIRCUS, 1928, 71 min. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. The Little Tramp goes from being a circus loiterer who steals hotdogs from babies to an accidental clown in this delightful riot by comedic genius Charlie Chaplin. Don’t be fooled by the freewheeling slapstick throughout – the final shot evokes the heart-tugging yet adorable melancholia that makes the Tramp one of cinema’s most enduring characters.

THE GOLD RUSH, 1925, 72 min. Coming off his first major financial failure, A WOMAN OF PARIS, writer-director Charlie Chaplin responded with what many consider his finest feature length film. The Lone Prospector (Chaplin) travels to the far-off Yukon in search of gold, but ends up falling in love with dance-hall girl Georgia Hale. The classic “dance of the dinner rolls” and “boiled shoe leather” scenes show Chaplin’s gift for poignant comedy at its very best.

Saturday, June 26 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature: THE PILGRIM, 1923, 59 min. Chaplin plays an escaped convict who, upon discovering a suit of clerical clothes, makes the uniform his disguise. A smart and funny critique of religious pretense.

THE GREAT DICTATOR, 1940, 125 min. Director Charlie Chaplin trades in the lovable bumbling of the Tramp for the hilarious but not-so-lovable bumbling of a strangely familiar Fascist leader in this brilliant work brimming with physical comedy and scathing political critique. “A time capsule, a timeless document and a profound work of conscience…See it with a crowd.” – San-Francisco Chronicle.

Sunday, June 27 – 3:00 PM
Charlie Chaplin Shorts Program: “Pay Day,” (1922, 28 min) Chaplin as a construction worker celebrates pay day by going to the bar – and trouble erupts. “Sunnyside,” (1919, 29 min) Charlie the handyman must mow the floor of a hotel, and deal with the pesky cows and goats who have found a home in the church. “A Day’s Pleasure,” (1919, 25 min). A family boat outing is complicated by tumultuous waves, traffic and a pool of tar. “The Idle Class,” (1921, 32 min). The Tramp arrives at a luxurious resort, stowed away in the train that takes the elite to their sunny summer playground.

More information as always from the American Cinematheque’s site, including booking details. Now, given Janus Films’ close relationship with the Criterion Collection, might the ultimate in Chaplin deluxe DVD releases be in the offing? At any rate, look out for Janus’ Chaplin website, coming soon.

Shoot a film, save a film

How good are you with a movie camera? Better than me, I hope, and if you are looking for a subject to bring out your finer skills and commitment to the moving image medium, then why not participate in the AMIA Short film Competition?

AMIA – the Association of Moving Image Archivists – has announced a short film competition on the theme of ‘Preserving the world’s moving image heritage’. AMIA is celebrating its twentieth years as an organisation dedicated to preserving moving images, and it wants the competition to provide an opportunity “to emphasize the importance of saving our moving images as important educational, historical, and cultural resources”.

The specific challenge is to produce a film running between two and three minutes which conveys the importance of saving the world’s moving image heritage. The competition is open to everyone, and you can submit more than one production. All entries must be in the English language or with English subtitles. Submissions may include any combination of original and archival material. All entries must be on DVD, formatted Region 1 or 0.


Submissions will be accepted from 15 June 2010 and the deadline is 30 August 2010. There will be be Grand Prize of $2,500 (USD) prize, to be announced on October 27 as part of the World Day of Audiovisual Heritage celebration, and will be screened at the AMIA 2010 conference‘s Archival Screening Night, on 5 November 2010 in Philadelphia, PA. The runner-up will receive $1,000 (USD). The winner, runner-up and finalists’ productions will be included on the AMIA website.

Further details, including submission rules, technical requirements and entry form, are available on the AMIA website. Get cranking.

(The photo at the top of this post shows J.B. McDowell manning the camera, with British newsreel producer William Jeapes to the right, and Warwick Trading Company manager Will Barker obscured behind McDowell. It dates from 1908)

The lost Americans

The Sergeant (Selig Polyscope, 1910), from http://www.filmpreservation.org

You know, it’s getting difficult to keep up with all the silent news just at the moment. Hot on the heels of the discovery of a lost Chaplin film, A Thief Catcher, the National Film Preservation Foundation has announced a partnership with the New Zealand Film Archive to preserve and make available a collection of 75 American films (all silents) that no longer survive in American archives.

The films range in date from 1898 to 1929 and are a mixture of shorts and features, fiction and non-fiction. The plan is to preserve the films over the next three years and the make them accessible through the five major American silent film archives: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Copies of the complete films will also be publicly available in New Zealand and viewable on the National Film Preservation Fund Web site.

A full list of the films hasn’t been announced as yet, but these are the highlights:

  • The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies—Episode 5, The Chinese Fan (Edison Manufacturing Co., 1914). In this episode of the famous serial (previously entirely lost in the United States), ace woman reporter Dolly Desmond, played by Mary Fuller, rescues the editor’s daughter from kidnappers and gets the scoop. In the early 1910s, on-going serial narratives starring intrepid heroines lured female moviegoers back to the theater week after week.
  • The Better Man (Vitagraph Company of America, 1912), a Western in which a Mexican American outlaw proves himself the better man. This film will be preserved through funds raised in February by the “For the Love of Film” Blogathon.
  • The Big Show (Miller Brothers Productions, 1926), the only surviving fiction film made by the famous Oklahoma-based Wild West Show managed by the Miller Brothers. The film showcases performances by many of the troupe’s performers as well as its owner, Col. Joseph Miller.
  • Billy and his Pal (George Méliès / American Wild West Film Company, 1911), a Western filmed in San Antonio, Texas, and the earliest surviving film featuring Francis Ford. The actor-director introduced the movie business to his younger brother, John, who soon blossomed as director. Released in New Zealand as Bobby and his Pal.
  • Birth of a Hat (Stetson Company, 1920), an industrial short illustrating how Stetson makes its hats.
  • The Diver (Kalem Company, 1916), a documentary showing how to set underwater explosives.
  • Fordson Tractors (Ford Motor Co., 1918), an industrial film promoting the all-purpose tractor introduced by Henry Ford & Son in 1917.
  • The Girl Stage Driver (Éclair-Universal, 1914), an early Western filmed in Tucson, Arizona. American-made Westerns were in demand by movie audiences around the globe and helped establish the United States as the major film-exporting nation by the late 1910s.
  • Idle Wives (Universal Moving Pictures, 1916), the first reel of a Lois Weber feature in which a film inspires three sets of moviegoers to remake their lives. More of the film exists at the Library of Congress.
  • International Newsreel (ca.1926), newsreel including five stories from the United States and abroad. By the late 1910s, newsreels became a regular part of the movie program. Because the footage was usually cut up and reused, very few newsreels from the silent era survive in complete form.
  • Kick Me Again (Universal Pictures / Bluebird Comedies, 1925), a short comedy with Hungarian silent star Charles Puffy. As America became the center of world film production in the 1920s, European actors, such as Puffy, came to Hollywood to build their careers.
  • Little Brother (Thanhouser Film Corporation, 1913), one of two one-reelers from New York’s Thanhouser Company repatriated through the project.
  • Lyman Howe’s Ride on a Runaway Train (Lyman H. Howe Films, 1921), a thrill-packed short entertainment that was accompanied by sound discs which survive at the Library of Congress.
  • Mary of the Movies (Columbia Pictures, 1923), Hollywood comedy about a young woman seeking stardom in the movies. This first surviving film from Columbia Pictures exists in an incomplete copy.
  • Maytime (B.P. Schulberg Productions, 1923), a feature with Clara Bow in an early role. Nitrate deterioration has reached the point where “blooms” are starting to eat away at the emulsion.
  • Midnight Madness (DeMille Pictures, 1928), comedy starring Clive Brook as a millionaire who decides to teach his golddigging fiancée a lesson.
  • Run ‘Em Ragged (Rolin Films, 1920), a short featuring slapstick comedian Snub Pollard.
  • The Sergeant (Selig Polyscope, 1910), a Western filmed in Yosemite Valley when the area was managed by the U.S. Army. This film will be preserved through funds raised in February by the “For the Love of Film” Blogathon.
  • Trailer for Strong Boy (Fox Film Corporation, 1929), a “lost” feature directed by John Ford and starring Victor McLaglen as a courageous baggage handler who thwarts a holdup. No other moving images from this film survive.
  • Upstream (Fox Film Corporation, 1927), a feature directed by four-time Academy Award winner John Ford. Only 15% of the silent-era films by the celebrated director are known to survive. This tale of backstage romance stars Nancy Nash and Earle Foxe.
  • Why Husbands Flirt (Christie Comedies, 1918), one of the nine short comedies that will be preserved through this project.
  • The Woman Hater (Power Picture Plays, 1910), a one-reel comedy starring serial queen Pearl White.
  • Won in a Closet (Keystone Film Company, 1914), the first surviving movie directed by and starring Mabel Normand. Released in New Zealand as Won in a Cupboard.

Among the numerous highlights there are John Ford’s Upstream, a significant addition to the small number of silent features directed by Ford (there is to be a retrospective on Ford’s silents at this month’s Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, though not with Upstream, fairly obviously) and the Clara Bow feature Maytime, though let’s not overlook such certain gems as the proto-sound Lyman Howe’s Ride on a Runaway Train, documentaries on how to make stetson hats and how to set underwater explosives, and particularly a rare example of a complete silent newsreel (i.e. with full titles and all the stories in place – so many newsreels only survive as individual stories).

There’s also the heartening news that the preservation of two of the films, The Better Man and The Sergeant, is to be funded by monies raised by the recent For the Love of Film film preservation blogathon, which ran 14-21 February 2010 – hats off to the blogosphere for that noble action (and read more about this aspect of the preservation at the highly commendable Self-Styled Siren blog). Preview clips of The Sergeant are available on the NFPF site.

This isn’t expected to be the last such international film preservation project (and it emulates an earlier Australian/American initiative). The Library of Congress estimates that roughly one-third of American silent-era features that survive in complete form exist only in archives in other countries. That’s an exciting prospect, but we must also think of the cost – preserving the New Zealand treasure trove is going to cost $500,000. Just consider the millions upon millions that will be required to preserve just the entirety of the American silent film heritage, and then add up everyone else’s heritage. Tough decisions lie ahead.

There’s more on the project and the films’ discovery from The New York Times.

A thief catcher

Charlie Chaplin (left) in A Thief Catcher, courtesy of Paul Gierucki and Slapsticon, via the Nitrateville discussion forum

Last year we learned of the discovery of Zepped, a previously unknown (well almost) Chaplin film, though it wasn’t a Chaplin film as such but rather some sequences and outtakes from Chaplin films intercut with actuality footage of Zeppelins and some animated sequences. It received a genuine release in 1916, and it will be interesting to see how Chaplin filmographers treat it (it hasn’t made it onto the Internet Movie Database as yet).

But now there is news of another discovery, and this is that much more exciting because it is a genuine Chaplin film, and one previously unknown.

It is known, because Chaplin himself tells us in his autobiography [update: this is incorrect – see comments], that as well as the starring roles that he played in Keystone comedies, he also played bit parts as a Keystone Kop in several pictures. However, Chaplin does not mention any titles, and despite much searching and hoping down the years, no print of a Keystone film has emerged with just such a Chaplin cameo … until now.

To be unveiled at this year’s Slapsticon featival will be A Thief Catcher, directed by Henry Lehrman and originally released on 19 February 1914. The film stars Keystone regulars Ford Sterling, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy with Chaplin making what the festival press release describes as “an extended and very funny cameo as a policeman”. The press release states that the film was shot between 5 and 26 January 1914, which to judge from release dates could make it the second or third film Chaplin made at Keystone, being released just after his third starring comedy, Mabel’s Strange Predicament, issued on 9 February 1914. Chaplin’s first film was Making a Living, released 2 February 1914, his second Kid Auto Races at Venice, released 7 February and the first film in which he donned the tramp’s costume.

The print of A Thief Catcher was discovered earlier this year by sharp-eyed film preservationst Paul E. Gierucki of CineMuseum LLC. The film is to be shown at Slapsticon 2010 as part of a Chaplin Rarities Programme on Saturday 17 July at 20:00 at the Spectrum Theater in Rosslyn, Virginia. The Rarities programme will be a newly recovered reel of Chaplin outtakes from his Mutual comedies, and a new print of Chaplin’s Liberty War Loan propaganda short, The Bond (1918) featuring outtakes from that film.

A bit part is just a bit part, but this is nevertheless a significant discovery. It is more film of Chaplin, it tells us a little more about his early career in film, it confirms what he reports in his autobiography, it shows us Chaplin in his pre-tramp form, and of course it will now send archivists and collectors anxiously to check out other Keystone films for other Chaplin Kop sightings. And how long before Her Friend the Bandit (1914), the one film in which Chaplin starred to remain a lost film, is re-discovered. As we said before now, there are no lost films, just corners where we haven’t looked yet.

Update: A frame still from A Thief Catcher has now been made available by its discoverer Paul Gierucki and is reproduced at the top of this post. Interestingly Chaplin is sporting his familiar moustache, indicating that the film was made after Kid Auto Races in Venice, and that he was using the moustache even for cameos.

The Dreyer standard

Dreyer puts his hand up to block the camera, from a documentary ‘Carl Th. Dreyer’ available on http://english.carlthdreyer.dk

After a long period of waiting, it is good to be able to announce the official launch of the Danish Film Institute’s much-anticipated Carl Th. Dreyer website.

It has been worth the wait. The website (available in Danish and English versions) contains extensive and handsomely presented information on Denmark’s greatest filmmaker. There is a biography (creatively illustrated by photographs of Dreyer running down the right-hand column); thoughtful essays and articles on Dreyer’s visual style, his working method, and workplaces with which he was associated; explorations of key themes in his work; and biographical pieces on his various collaborators.

And then there is the gallery. Here is where things get really good. On one side there is a great selection of photographs and posters, the former including both personal photos as well as production stills. On the other side, there are the film and sound clips. There are extracts from some of the feature films (including Leaves from Satan’s Book among the silents), shorts, videos and sound interviews with Dreyer (some in Danish, some in English or with English titles), and films about Dreyer.

Then there is Dreyer’s Archive. This is a database of original scripts, work papers, photos, research material, newspaper clippings, book collection and more than 4,000 letters, mostly deriving from Dreyer’s estate. It is well put together, with exemplary indexing and hyperlinked cross-linking, though it is all in Danish and contains description of the archive contents, not digitised copies (the introduction to the database says that “all relevant material has been digitised, e.g. artifacts, photos and manuscripts” but this seems to relate to onsite access at the DFI).

Carl Th. Dreyer’s Die Gezeichneten (Love One Another) 1922, from http://english.carlthdreyer.dk

There is also an excellent filmography, providing a complete overview of every film with which Dreyer was involved, as screenwriter, director, editor and actor. Each record contains a short introduction, complete credits, stills, posters, technical data, scripts, plot summaries, DVD availability, selected reviews from Danish papers, and background information on the films’ production, reception and sources.

Here’s a list of all of Dreyer’s silent films (with director’s name in parenthesis and Dreyer’s credit on the second line):

The Leap to Death (Rasmus Ottesen, DK, 1912)
Scriptwriter Actor

Dagmar (Rasmus Ottesen, DK, 1912)

The Hidden Message (Kay van der Aa Kühle, DK, 1913)

War Correspondents (Vilhelm Glückstadt, DK, 1913)

Won by Waiting (Sofus Wolder, DK, 1913)

The Secret of the Bureau (Hjalmar Davidsen, DK, 1913)

Lay Down Your Arms! (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1915)

The Skeleton Hand (Alexander Christian, DK, 1915)

Money (Karl Mantzius, DK, 1916)

The Devil’s Protegé (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1916)

Evelyn the Beautiful (A.W. Sandberg, DK, 1916)

The Spider’s Prey (August Blom, DK, 1916)

A Criminal’s Diary (Alexander Christian, DK, 1916)

The Temptation of Mrs. Chestney (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1916)

The Mystery of the Crown Jewels (Karl Mantzius, DK, 1916)

The Mysterious Companion (August Blom, DK, 1917)

Which is Which? (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1917)

Convict No. 113 (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1917)

The Hands (Alexander Christian, DK, 1917)

Hotel “Paradise” (Robert Dinesen, DK, 1917)

The Music-hall Star (Holger-Madsen, DK, 1918)

Misjudgement (Alexander Christian, DK, 1917)

Gillekop (August Blom, DK, 1919)

Lace (August Blom, DK, 1919)

The President (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1919)
Director Scriptwriter

Leaves from Satan’s Book (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1921)
Director Scriptwriter

The Parson’s Widow (Carl Th. Dreyer, SE, 1921)
Director Scriptwriter

Love One Another (Carl Th. Dreyer, DE, 1922)
Director Scriptwriter

Once upon a Time (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1922)
Director Scriptwriter

Michael (Carl Th. Dreyer, DE, 1924)
Director Scriptwriter

Master of the House (Carl Th. Dreyer, DK, 1925)
Director Scriptwriter Production design

The Bride of Glomdal (Carl Th. Dreyer, NO, 1926)
Director Scriptwriter

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, FR, 1928)
Director Scriptwriter Editor

The whole site is a model of how to present any creative person’s legacy, let alone a leading filmmaker. It is easy to navigate, well-designed, amply visual, and has extensive cross-linking to encourage one to explore further and see how the site is structured. And new material is promised, so it is only going to get better and better. If only some other of the great names in silent film history could have similar definitive treatment (D.W. Griffith? Georges Méliès? Louis Lumière? Sergei Eisenstein? Where are the sites that these people deserve?). It’s about time – and the standard has been set.

Bologna’s memorable days


I’m a bit late with this report on the upcoming Cinema Ritrovato festival at Bologna, but frankly the Bolognese are all too good at hiding the information on their website (come on guys, it’s not even listed on your calendar). Anyway, the festival takes place 26 June-3 July, and as usual the festival’s “memorable eight days” brings together a remarkable range of archive films from the silent and sound eras, maintaining its well-deserved reputation for catholicity, scholarship and quality presentation.

The major silent cinema elements are the traditional centenary survey of a year of cinema which has now reached 1910; the start of a retrospective of proto-auteur Albert Capellani; all of John Ford’s surviving silents; and cross-linking with the Women and Silent Screen conference, also taking place in Bologna.

Here’s the welcoming blurb from the festival site:

Bologna’s eight days and nights of cinephilic paradise from June 26 to July 3 will take place in four locations: the twin screens of the Cineteca’s Lumière cinema, one dedicated to silent cinema (which will feature images of life from exactly 100 years ago) and the other to sound, showcasing, for example, little known films of Italy as it was during the period 1945-48; the Arlecchino cinema, a haven for films requiring the size of a larger screen; and of course Piazza Maggiore, which will host splendid restorations like Visconti’s Il Gattopardo brought by the Film Foundation, or the new complete version of Lang’s Metropolis, for whom we can thank the Murnau Stiftung and Stiftung Deutsches Kinemathek, with the original score by Gottfried Huppertz, performed by the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna conducted by Frank Strobel. What a wonderful surprise it will be to rediscover the films that started it all – the first actuality films, street views, masterpieces by the Lumière brothers bristling with their newly restored beauty thanks to the Institut Lumière in Lyon.

Year 1910 of our history of cinema, compiled year after year film by film, includes encounters with bright stars like Mistinguett and Stacia Napierkowska, with a debuting Francesca Bertini and Léonce Perret, and cinematic explorations of real and fictional worlds in the first feature length films. In addition to this section, Mariann Lewinsky is also curating a retrospective – destined to grow over the years – about Albert Capellani, a director who contributed enormously to the development and worldwide success of Maison Pathé, one of the first auteurs and a crucial figure for the growth of the seventh art in connection with the other arts and the pursuit of photogénie.

The largest section is dedicated to John Ford. Just like the previous retrospectives on Josef von Sternberg and Frank Capra organized by Il Cinema Ritrovato, this section will feature all of Ford’s existing silent output (about twenty films from 1917), as well as some of his first sound films, including Pilgrimage (1933), a true masterpiece. 3 Bad Men (1926) will be shown in Piazza Maggiore with a new score by Timothy Brock to be performed by the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Joseph McBride, the author of the brilliant biography Searching for John Ford, will curate a special dossier on the director, and several great historians, friends of Il Cinema Ritrovato, will make their contribution as well.

Another important name in American cinema and festival protagonist, Stanley Donen, will be our guest this year, more than sixty years after his debut with On the Town and more than fifty years after the golden age of musical ended – after which Donen continued his career beautifully with his personal brand of elegant comedy (Charade, 1963, and Two for the Road, 1967). And of course the best known and loved of them all, Singin’ in the Rain (1952), will be shown in Piazza Maggiore.

Anni difficili, “Difficult years”, is the title of a section dedicated to Italian cinema from 1945-48: an intense, crucial (and yet largely unknown) period, full of incredible conflicts and uncertain victories – a time when two world systems were fighting over the soul and the economy of the country. The showing of films like Roma città libera (Marcello Pagliero, 1946), Il sole sorge ancora (Aldo Vergano, 1946) and Caccia tragica (Giuseppe De Santis, 1947) will be complemented by films made in other European countries at the time: They Made Me a Fugitive (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947), Retour à la vie (Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean Dréville, Georges Lampin, André Cayatte, 1949), Iris och löjtnantshjärta (Alf Sjöberg, 1946) and In jenen Tagen (Helmut Käutner, 1947).

As for the film world surrounding Chaplin, this year the spotlight is on Robert Florey, an eclectic, talented Frenchman in Hollywood who was the assistant director of Monsieur Verdoux. Though the larger part of his work was routine, Florey created films that were incredible for their experimental audacity and their "tender madness" much loved by Luis Buñuel: The Life and Death of 9413 – A Hollywood Extra (1928), a film version of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946).

The festival would not be the same without restorations of films left to the ravages of time sponsored by the World Cinema Foundation. Among the most anticipated a Fondation Pathé Archives restoration, Boudu sauvé des Eaux (Jean Renoir, 1932).

Just like at past editions, this year several “dossiers” will unearth rare or unseen materials relating to some of the greatest filmmakers: Fellini, Godard and Pasolini, letting viewers discover a whole world in the brief space of an hour.

The festival will be accompanied by a large exhibition about Fellini, Fellini. Dall’Italia alla luna, curated by Sam Stourdzé and promoted by the Cineteca and MAMbo-Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna. The exhibition will be on display in the museum until July, 25. The exhibition is a larger version of last year’s show in Paris. Drawings, posters, period illustrated magazines, scene and set images all make for a seductive journey through popular images and the filmmaker’s creative workshop.

Il Cinema Ritrovato’s program takes place this year after the international conference Women and the Silent Screen, now in its sixth year. Sponsored by Women and Film History International and organized by the Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo-Università di Bologna and the Cineteca di Bologna, the conference will be held from Thursday, June, 24 to Saturday, June 26, and will feature about one hundred lectures (in English) on different issues about women and silent film (see wss2010.wfhi.org). Our festival has always dedicated energy and time to presenting the feminine creative forces in silent film, with sections on divas and comedy actresses. This year we have started a new chapter about women in complicated stories of crime, revenge and espionage, introducing viewers to the powerful Astrea, charming Josette Andriot and beautiful Berta Nelson.

The festival also sponsors the Film Publishing Fair (Books, DVDs, Antiquarian and Vintage Materials) and Il Cinema Ritrovato DVD Award (7th edition). We would like to remind you that Il Cinema Ritrovato will host two seminars: the continuation of the Film Restoration Summer School / FIAF Summer School 2010 (deadline for submitting application is postponed to April 23rd) co-organized with the FIAF and ACE and with the support of the Media Plus Programme, and a workshop for European quality cinema exhibitors organized by Europa Cinemas and Progetto Schermi e Lavagne. Enrollment in each seminar requires separate registration, available on the website indicated below.

You are most cordially welcomed to the most memorable eight days of 2010.

Further information on the festival is on the site, in Italian, though there is no day-by-day programme (that I can find). Also worth seeking out on the site is a list of every film featured at the festival 1986-2009 (in Excel spreadsheet form) giving title, date, country and director, plus PDFs of festival publications and its DVD award winners 2004-2009. All wonderful stuff – once you can find it.

100 years of newsreels in Britain

Frame still from Pathé Gazette’s The Movie Cameramen’s Derby, released 7 September 1922, which shows a race between British newsreel cameramen (with their cameras) – available to view at www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=19541

One hundred years ago, give or take a few days, a new kind of film appeared for the first time on British cinema screens. The Bioscope of those days took note of this interesting new development with this report:

There is no mistaking the smartness of Messrs Pathé, and their latest achievement — the production of a weekly cinematograph paper, The Animated Gazette — has just about beaten all records for the interest which it has awakened among the great B.P. [British Public]. The daily Press has been devoting considerable space to it, with the result that curiosity has been aroused, and people are now busily discussing the latest thing in moving pictures.

Briefly the idea is to incorporate the usual journalistic methods of writing into filming, and to portray, in lengths of about 80 odd feet, the chief items of interest that have happened during the week. Thus the illustrated newspaper is being superseded by The Animated Gazette, which depicts the actual scenes of contemporary history in living and moving reality.

Mr Valentia Steer, a well-known journalist, is editor of this moving picture periodical, and he has a staff of photo-correspondents, who are stationed in all the big cities of Europe, besides another staff at home. Last week’s news consisted of pictures of the cross-channel flight, Oxford University Eights’ trial, Peary at Edinburgh, Roosevelt at Cambridge, besides many interesting ‘glimpses’ from home and abroad.

This week’s contents bill announces motor-racing at Brooklands, the manouevres at Salisbury Plain, the departure of the Terra Nova, Chinese mission in Paris, quarrymen’s strike, Caruso in the street, Modes in Paris, and other ‘newsy’ films.

That the idea will catch on is undoubted, and it is perhaps not looking too far into the future to anticipate the time when the weekly Animated Gazette will become an indispensable ‘daily’.

The Bioscope, 9 June 1910

This piece announced the arrival of the British newsreel, in the form of Pathé’s Animated Gazette, edition no. 1 of which appeared at some point in the first week of June 1910. It wasn’t the first newsreel in the world – that honour generally goes to Pathé Fait-Divers (later Pathé Journal), launched in France in 1908. There has been film of news events ever since films had been invented, but they weren’t newsreels. Newsreels meant regularity of service, and that was dependent on a network of cinemas and an audience which could be guaranteed to come back to the cinema week after week. Before cinemas started to appear – the first ten years or so of film history – a film might be made of a news event, but it seldom could be presented as news, that is while the event was still current and with the report being understood as being part of a regular, always updated filmed news service. Cinemas supplied the loyal audience, and it is the audience that makes the news, because what is news to one person isn’t necessarily news to another – it all depends where you are, and where that news is coming from.

Pathé’s Animated Gazette main title card from 1915 (with British Pathé spoiler). Note the boast that it was reaching 20 million people (5 million is more likely for the UK) and the line about having been passed by the British Board of Film Censors – only in wartime were British newsreels subject to censorship

Pathé’s Animated Gazette was immediately recognised as an exciting innovation. It was a product of cinema, yet it had a clear relationship with newspapers. It gave a new social purpose to cinema-going. This new film form was called by a variety of names – animated newspapers, topicals etc.- but not as yet newsreels (that term didn’t begin to catch on until 1917 or so), and Pathé’s model was soon followed by Warwick Bioscope Chronicle (1910), Gaumont Graphic (1910), Topical Budget (1911), Eclair Journal and Williamson’s Animated News, all before the First World War. In the US there was Pathé’s Weekly (1911), Gaumont Animated Weekly (1912), Mutual Weekly (1912) and Universal’s Animated Weekly (1912); France added Gaumont Actualités and Eclair-Journal; Germany had Tag im Film (1911), Eiko-Woche (1913), Union-Woche (1913) and Messter-Woche (1914). Russia had Zerkalo voiny (Mirror of the World) (1914); Australia had Australasian Gazette.(Note by the way how the newsreels all emulated newspapers by taking on names like Gazette and Journal)

The form spread around the world, often as off-shoots of the French parent companies of Pathé and Gaumont. Filmed news became a product of the early film multinationals, and through means of international exchange, world news was screened in cinemas across the globe, though the time taken to transport film internationally lessened its value as news, and audiences expressed a strong preference for local news, on subjects that were news to them. ‘Foreign’ news often wasn’t news at all, in its timing or in how the audience viewed it.

The newsreels were released at regular intervals to match the pattern of cinema-going that people in their millions were starting to adopt. In Britain newsreels were very early on issued twice-weekly and stayed that way for five decades. In the US the distances were greater and so news tended to be issued weekly. Newsreels had become firmly established as part of practically cinema programme by the start of the First World War, and newsreels were to play a key part in informing audiences about how the war was progressing. Such was their importance that the British, French and American governments each took over or created a newsreel to act as a means to deliver officially sanctioned footage (i.e. propaganda) – respectively War Office Offical Topical Budget, Annales de la Guerre and Official War Review.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks visit Britain, from Pathé Gazette issue 679, released 24 June 1920. Available to view at www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=27815

In the 1920s newsreels built on these strong foundations and became an essential and popular element of the cinema programme. The average newsreel in the silent era ran for some 7-8 minutes and contained anywhere between four and eight stories, eached introdued by a title card with the story title and a short comment, and sometimes with further titles cut into the story as the newsreels increasingly sought to add commentary even before sound gave them their voice. The newsreels rapidly gained a repuation for light-hearted items, stunts and gimmicks, with a fascination for sport, royalty, pageantry, tradition and sensation. Oscar Levant notoriously summed up newsreels as being “a series of catastrophes ended by a fashion show”.

That’s unfair. Anyone who has looked at newsreels in any sort of depth will soon find that there was a lot more too them than fashion shows. The newsreels were acutely aware of what were the current topics of conversation (they were released after the daily newspapers, so the news agenda had been already set for them) and picked up on the personalities and issues of the day that audiences wanted to see covered with an astute eye. This propensity for the topical makes them an excellent barometer of contemporary social concerns, albeit usually sugared with that lightness of tone that the newsreels deemend necessary because they were, after all, in the entertainment business, and their audience had come to the cinema to be entertained.

The newsreels entertained, and that ultimately became the noose around their necks that condemned them. That however was in the future – our concern is with the silent era, and in the 1910s and 1920s the newsreels reigned supreme, and we cannot understand what silent cinema means if we do not take them into consideration. Indeed no other area of silent cinema is so well represented online as newsreels (such is their continuing commercial value).

Fortunately there is amply opportunity to consider them. The newsreels may have faded away in the 1950s and 60s, but their libraries live on, selling footage to television programmes. In the UK there are five major newsreel libraries and a great deal of what they hold has been made available online, either available to all or free at point of use for educational users. They are:

  • British Pathé
    Pathé operated a newsreel in Britain between 1910-1970. Its entire archive (3,500 hours) is freely available online, albeit with low resolution copies
  • ITN Source
    ITN holds the British Gaumont (1910-1959), Paramount (1929-1957) and Universal (1930-1956) newsreel libraries. A substantial amount of this is available on its site, included among other footage managed by ITN – go to the advanced search option and select ‘New Classics’ to narrow searches down to newsreels. The entire Gaumont collection is available in download form for UK higher and further education users only via Newsfilm Online
  • British Movietone
    The entire British Movietone News collection 1929-1979 is available for free, alongside non-Movietone silent material going back to the 1890s
  • BFI National Archive
    The BFI owns the Topical Budget (1911-1931) newsreel, examples of which are available on its Screenonline site (accessible to UK educational and library users only) and on its YouTube channel
  • Imperial War Museum
    The IWM holds service newsreels from the First and Second World Wars, a number of which are available through Film and Sound Online (UK higher and further educational users only)

These services has been covered by the Bioscope before now (see links below). As it is Pathé’s centenary, let’s finish with a few words about them. First of all, happy centenary! the Bioscope sends its congratulations on having achieved such a major milestone and still a significant commercial moving image presence. Pathé has changed hands several times down the years. Until a couple of years ago it was owned by the Daily Mail newspaper; now it is managed by venture capitalists.


For anyone who cares about newsreels, the British Pathé site is a mixed blessing. It is a wonderful window onto the past, the digitisation of the films having been originally funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund but kept on as a free service long beyond the original agreement with the HLF. But on the other side it has of late become a little soulless, disfigured by front page advertising, and dominated by an idea of news as gimmick and sensation, a lucky dip into the quaint ways in which our ancestors behaved rather than showing what the newsreel fundamentally was – a vehicle for the news.

One cannot get a sense of the Pathé newreels as newsreels i.e. as a set of stories released on a single reel, and for that it is necessary to cross-refer to the BUFVC’s News on Screen site (formerly the British Universities Newsreel Database) where you will find an almost complete record of issues for all British newsreels 1910-1979, together with background histories, biographies of those who worked in the newsreels, digitised documents, and links across to the British Pathé site. It is place to go if you appreciate newsreels for what they mean to the study of society and history. Newsreels matter – and the more we understand them the more we will get from viewing them.

Finding out more
These Bioscope posts have covered British newsreel collections and the use of online resources: British Pathe part one, British Pathe part two, Revisiting Pathe, Movietone and Henderson and Welcome to Newsfilm Online

Pathé editor P.D. Hugon wrote an informative booklet Hints to Newsfilm Cameraman (1915) with much information on how newsreels operated at that time. The online text has an important introduction by Nicholas Hiley.

British Pathé has a lively Twitter feed, drawing attention to exciting novelties they discover in their collection.

I’ve written lots about newsreels in the past. My history of the Topical Budget newsreel (1992) is long out of print (but you can get it dirt cheap second-hand), but there’s Yesterday News: The British Cinema Newsreel Reader (2002) which tells the history of British newsreels through texts contemporary and modern, and most recently I’ve an essay on newsreels in Richard Howells and Robert W. Matson’s Using Visual Evidence (2009).